Astronaut Visit: Ken Bowersox – October 2015

This October, ISSET will be bringing American NASA Astronaut Ken Bowersox to the United Kingdom.


Ken is a NASA Astronaut with experience of five Space Shuttle Missions, two as Commander and a long duration space mission as the Commander of the International Space Station.

An Evening with Ken Bowersox will be taking place on the 15th October in association with our partners ‘Pint of Science’. This event is a chance to come and hear all about space missions with a real NASA astronaut and a former Director of Kennedy Space Center, Jay Honeycutt. The evening will also include some exciting presentations from lecturers at King’s College, London. Professor Steve Harridge will be teaching us about ‘The effect of Space travel on muscles’ and Dr. Julie Keeble will be filling us in on the topic of ‘Student experiments on the International Space Station’. Tickets can be purchased at this link.

Ken will also be leading the Astronaut Leadership Experience Programme in the Lake District as part of his visit. This programme is taking place on 16th – 18th October, 2015. You can sign up here for this programme.


Astronaut Leadership Experience… Mission Complete

On May 8th 2014, four teams of 10 students aged 17 – 46 made the wise decision to set out on an ALE (Astronaut Leadership Experience) program in the Lake District over 4 days. Conquering mountain peaks, rock climbs, fast flowing ghylls, building zip wires over 60 meter gorges & orienteering their way through the moors.

ALE students were joined by NASA astronaut Mike Foale who helped lead them through their daily outdoor challenges & gave them inspirational mentoring in the class room by night. Here at ALE we are truly honoured to work Mike Foale, who we regard as one of the space industries heroes, having played a crucial role in saving the MIR space station after a collision in orbit.

We look forward to working with him this summer at Kings College London, for Mission Discovery;


ALE student taking the plunge…

If you can achieve this, you really can do anything! Abgalabdi Abdi – Coventry University

The best thing I have ever done! Kyle Collins – Milton Keynes

There is no way my wife & kids would believe I could have done anything like this. Thank you! Andy Nyanyo – Coventry University

With the safe return of every member of all teams, the expeditions have successfully completed their missions. Completing each challenge was a goal, but it was never the priority for these role models, and their efforts to inspire themselves and other students to get outside get active, lead their team and chase their dreams which has already had a profound impact on their lives.

The expedition designed, developed and led by ALE (Astronaut Leadership Experience) has inspired a generation of youth to reach their own great heights, not just in the outdoors but also in education & the work place.

The Astronaut Leadership Experience exposes people to the challenges of human survival similar to exploration on a distant planet. A wilderness environment simulates the physical realities associated with establishing and maintaining a human presence where none existed before. Explorers will learn the leadership, team building and communication skills required to conduct complex missions. The challenging environment will enable the explorers to help each other and work as a team in a truly unique situation.” Ken Ham – NASA Astronaut and Space Shuttle Commander

To sign up to our next available program in the Lake District please visit;

Also check out photo’s from this latest ALE program;

About ALE

When NASA forms an astronaut crew they undertake leadership training in remote & wild areas.

ALE has been constructed by astronauts & astronaut trainers, replicating aspects of an astronaut’s team building training to enable you to undergo similar leadership exercises to a NASA space shuttle crew.

Founded in 2009 by Chris Barber, ALE takes students of all ages on remote wilderness expeditions, teaching them fundamental leadership principals.

ALE uses the outdoors to teach students about responsibility for themselves, their team & their surroundings. It is not something that can be taught over a desk or at your morning meeting. On your ALE course you’ll learn how to make decisions, develop confidence, and work through challenges with your team mates. Overall, you’ll work hard, have fun, and return home with leadership skills to last a lifetime.

ALE schools are instructed by outdoor professionals, leadership experts & ex-NASA astronauts. This creates a strong blend of technical skills, teaching abilities & a large range of personal & professional success. In between the outdoor activities will be fun team building challenges, along with evening leadership classes from the resident astronaut. We believe that the key to successful learning is to enjoy what you’re doing, and this is something our instructors work by every day!

We offer courses for large groups that you can join, as well as tailor made courses just for your group. We expect a lot of work from our students & in return we give you fantastic personal rewards for those who want to learn how to lead.

You can book online or give us a call and a member of our team will be happy to help you get the best out of your ALE course.

Sun’s magnetic field to flip?!

Sorry for the dramatic title…it isn’t as apocalyptic as it sounds. Here’s why.

In the next few weeks, the sun will switch it’s polarity, which happens every 11 or so years. Many of us will have lived through a couple of these flips without even noticing, so it isn’t a dangerous phenomenon. In fact scientists say that it’s quite the opposite.

Diagram of Sun’s magnetic field.

Surrounding the sun and cloaking our solar system is the heliospheric current sheet. This works as a force-field, protecting us from particles shot at us by supernovas and other explosions out in space. In the act of switching the magnetic poles, the sheet will become temporarily wavy and corrugated, making it a better shield against the particles.

Also, the heightened solar activity that the flip will collide with is going to mean higher visibility for Northern Lights observers. This will be great for our Astronaut Leadership Experience trip to the Arctic with astronaut Ken Ham in February!

Northern Lights over Tromsø

NASA’s unmanned Voyager spacecraft is on the way to the edge of the solar system, and on it’s way hopefully will be able to catch a glimpse of the wavy sheet as it ripples through the universe.

Artist’s conception of what the heliospheric current sheet will do when the sun’s magnetic field flips!

On the downside, there will probably be some minor geomagnetic storms, which will cause some radio blackouts and satellite interference. But on the whole, unless you come with us to see the beautiful, extra-bright Aurora Borealis in the Arctic, you won’t even notice the change!

NASA’s Maven Launch & the Aurora

Yesterday, NASA’s Maven mission launched on a 10 month journey to join the Curiosity Rover on Mars! The purpose of the expedition is for NASA to build on evidence that Mars was once hospitable. Recent Curiosity discoveries of rock erosion prove that streams must have once flowed on the planet.

NASA’s Maven Orbiter.

The primary theory on Mars’ decline is that around 4 billion years ago, the planet lost it’s magnetic field due to a large asteroid impact. The field was a protective shield from corrosive solar winds, and as a result of it’s loss, layers of the Martian atmosphere were stripped away including any possible life. Maven intends on monitoring the rate that the atmosphere is deteriorating, and hopefully work out how long ago the possible asteroid impact occurred.

The mission will also give us an insight into how to stop the same happening to earth. Maven could help prevent a similar disaster happening to Earth by showing us what could actually happen if we don’t act now. With the current state of our atmosphere due to greenhouse gasses and CO2 emissions, if we don’t do something about the environment soon, then we may well end up in the same position as Mars.

We will be visiting the beautiful Aurora Borealis as part of our Astronaut Leadership Experience in February 2014, click here to join us!

Another (slightly less morbid) objective of the Maven expedition is to capture images of the auroras on Mars. Mars has small localised magnetic fields, probably remnants of the original magnetic field that managed to survive the asteroid impact. Similarly to the Arctic on earth, the aurora is only visible in certain areas of Mars. Whereas the strongest parts of earth’s magnetic field are the North and South poles, Mars’ fragmented field means that the aurora is much fainter and more spread out.

We also plan on observing an Aurora, but rather than risk the 225,000km journey to Mars, we’ll be visiting the Arctic in February 2014 as part of the Astronaut Leadership Experience. February will offer the perfect conditions to experience the Aurora Borealis in all its glory. The Northern Light Belt hits Norway in Lofoten, where we will be staying. There is no other place on earth where you will stand a better chance of witnessing the lights!

Participants will also gain new leadership techniques and team-work skills with the help and guidance of astronaut Ken Ham. Outdoor leadership courses are a vital part of an astronaut’s training, as they are required to remain calm and focused in the face of adversity, and maintain clear judgement during any group decision. Our Lake District ALE was described by record-breaking NASA astronaut Michael Foale as the most similar experience to Russian space training that he had ever encountered (this will be running again with Michael in March 2014, head here for more details!) 

An Interview with Astronaut Michael Foale


Michael Foale: “Astronauts must learn how to abseil as part of leadership training.”

The Astronaut Leadership Experience is going from strength to strength, with our programme in the Lake District being featured in the North East News Chronicle! To celebrate, we’re publishing an interview we did with record-breaking NASA astronaut Michael Foale the last time we were in the Lake District, with his views on the benefits of ALE and his ascent to becoming a space-station saving astronaut!

What kind of training was involved in becoming an astronaut?

Firstly I had to do well in school! I made sure I got my A Levels, got into university and then got into a technical job in space navigation. I then learnt to fly using the glider experience because it was a cheaper way to get a pilot’s license. I also led a scientific diving exhibition, and took part in the excavation of the Mary Rose.
After these I was qualified enough to be selected for the space programme, and undergo astronaut training. This involved learning how spacecraft are constructed, how they can be operated by the astronauts and what to do if things go wrong. That was the main focus of astronaut training.

How long did the astronaut training take?

The basic training lasts 3 or 4 years before you get assigned to a flight, and then the flight training lasts a year if you’re going on a short flight on a space shuttle. If you’re going on a long flight like the Mir or the space station, then the flight specific training lasts 1 and a half to 2 years.

Do the similarities of abseiling prepare astronauts well for their space walks? 

Even though an astronaut performing a spacewalk is in free fall, and feels no weight, the danger of “falling off” the space station is just as deadly as the danger of falling during a vertical abseil.
Astronauts must learn how to abseil, as part of leadership training, but they also recognize that during an EVA, they should make sure their tethers are secure.  If they forget to hook in, they could float away forever, and lose their life just as easily as someone abseiling without properly managing their carabineer.

Long way down: Michael Foale on the Via Ferrata.

Long way down: Michael Foale on the Via Ferrata.

How is climbing the Via Ferratta similar to space walking in a Russian Orlan space suit?

When doing a Russian space walk, we have two 1 meter long tethers with large hooks, attached to the same point at the waist level of the Orlan space suit.  As we move along the outside of the station, we have to always have at least one hook clipped into a succession of hand rails, and at least one hand on a different hand rail.  We must always have at least two attach points, even when moving one hook to the next hand rail.  The consequence of coming off the space station, and floating away, is deadly, as the Orlan does not have a SAFER jet pack to fly back to the station.
Doing the Via Ferratta,  using two lanyards each with a carabineer, we must move along from one hand hold to the next, always hooked in with at least one lanyard attached.  The consequence of not being hooked in, and letting go, is fatal.

Would you have any advice for aspiring astronauts?

First and foremost, they have to decide if they’re really into space. They should read as much as they can about space travel and learn about the space flying history.
Having understood all the things that go into space exploration they should then think about what they would like to do in space, because you can’t do everything. You can’t do all the space walks, all the experiments, fly in all the spacecraft. You also have to decide somewhat how long you want to be in space. Is it alright for you to be away from home for 6 months? On top of all this, learning Russian or Chinese is a great advantage in the industry.


Michael Foale (centre) and Chris (far right) in their wetsuits before waterfall scrambling!

Via Ferrata


Fourteen years down the line, and it’s been quite a journey!

Now with regular excursions to the NASA Space Centres in Houston, Florida and Washington well and truly conquered, we’re focusing on holding bigger and better educational events throughout the UK.

We’ve established locations for our Astronaut Leadership Experience programme, which aims to reflect the programmes that NASA carries out when a new astronaut team is formed. Trained astronauts are taken to remote and wild locations to concentrate on their leadership and team building skills. Some of our previous experiences include trips to the Gobi desert in Mongolia, wildlife areas in India and the Arctic.

Astronaut Leadership Experience, Gobi Desert in Mongolia, June 2012

So, we’ve been strapping on our hard hats and taking on one of the most exciting (and really quite scary) challenges that the Lake District has to offer. This nail-biting adventure saw us balancing hundreds of feet over the Honister Pass, on a wobbly cable, with an even wobblier stomach.

Rock Climbing at Honister Pass, Lake District

Chris Barber – Rock-Climbing Extraordinaire

 Our Astronaut Leadership Experience focuses on a range of different areas and activities, including a Zip-wire Challenge, Mountain Safety and an Introduction to Abseiling. One of the most exciting elements of the programme is the challenging Mountain Via Ferrata.

Via Ferrata isn’t a traditional form of rock climbing, instead participants are attached by a harness and allowed to climb freely on a series of iron rungs and supports. Scaling the edge of Fleetwith Pike, with nothing between you and the vast drop below but a single cable, is a test of your courage, leadership and teamwork – essential astronaut skills.

A fantastic challenge, Via Ferrata is the easiest and most fun way to approach rock-climbing, without any previous experience or training. Although scary at first, we were always double clicked into our safety harness and completely safe at all times, so we were free to relax and enjoy ourselves.

Don’t Look Down!

Via Ferrata: A Fantastic Challenge

Via Ferrata routes were originally used in the Alps and the Italian Dolomites for carrying munitions through the mountains during the World Wars, and with commercial routes now in Switzerland and Austria, it’s becoming a popular tourist experience. Honister Pass is the first place to introduce such a nerve-wracking experience in Britain. With such a breathtaking backdrop, it’s hard not to be impressed…if you can bring yourself to look down.

Honister Pass, The Lake District

With Chris having first experienced Via Ferrata in the Dolomites, he thought it was a wonderfully exciting experience which would be perfect to include in an ISSET programme. So came the birth of the Astronaut Leadership Experience. Having spoken to friends in the industry, professional astronauts and trainers who all loved the idea; it was agreed that the experience would be a unique way to teach students the essential skills that will apply not only in their day-to-day learning, but in their future chosen careers.

Zoe takes on the Via Ferrata Challenge


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